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'Friday Night Lights' recap: Hunting and fishing for plots

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Friday Night Lights committed some minor sins last night, but I’m willing to forgive almost all of them just for the sight of Tim Riggins in a hunting cap he wore with intentional ironic goofiness while on a hunting trip with Matt Saracen. (Was “33,” the number Tim had written on his deerstalker cap, his football jersey number?)

The hour started out well. I like the way East Dillon Principal Burnwell (very nice, Dickensian name) isn’t cutting Coach Eric Taylor any slack. (His terse dismissal of a pep rally was, “Rah, rah, rah, sis boom bah” — and that last “bah” sounded like the start of “bah, humbug!”)

But I’m already a bit impatient with the Vince-Luke arguing and fighting. The racial tensions here aren’t being played out with nearly the degree of detail and subtlety that FNL used to deploy with brilliant regularity. I ascribe this to the difficulty the producers have set up for themselves in splitting our attention between two schools and two teams. There are simply too many new characters and so many subplots to juggle; it’s inevitable that some of them will be treated abruptly, as this rivalry between Vince and Luke was this week. It’s too bad, because I think both characters could yield nuanced stories, given their backgrounds.

Speaking of subplots, of all the ones to choose when FNL has been spending its initial weeks setting up Eric’s challenges with new players and Tami’s woes with the redistricting, this was the week the series had to pick for Devin to ask Julie to accompany her to a gay bar? Again, I like Devin as a character from last season, but her best-buds friendship with Julie seemed to come out of nowhere. And I get that to some extent, this was a plot device: to have Julie see coach Stan in the gay bar. I’m hoping that this guy, who so far as been depicted as a loud doofus, will now become more three-dimensional as we see how this aspect of his identity plays out. But again, is this a case of too many characters distracting us from our core favorites?

Which brings me to a few faves in particular:

• Tami: How much is it going to take for her to start unloading on Eric to pay as much attention to what she’s going through as she does for his troubles? This week, her car is vandalized, and she… what, cleans off the mess, drives home, and offers to cook dinner for the bunch of team boosters Eric needs to schmooze? This isn’t the emotionally open Tami we know and love. (But all respect, as always, to Connie Britton for making the absolute most of every second of screen time; her reactions do a lot of storytelling the scripts don’t have time for.)

• Riggins and Saracen go hunting: How funny was that? In the midst of Matt’s dolorous worries about his future with Julie, his apprenticeship with that nutty-but-brilliant artist, and his pizza delivery job, it was great to see ol’ Tim pull his pal out into the woods for a little hunting. And even better that Matt proved to be such a klutz at it.

Finally, what did you think of the night’s big emotional payoff, the news of the death of Matt’s father, deployed overseas? The show pulled Kim Dickens in as Matt’s mom for the first time this season just so she could be home when a military team appeared at the door to give her the bad news. Into what sort of emotional spin will this send poor Matt?

Friday Night Lights airs on DirecTV’s 101 network every Wednesday.

Did you watch? What sublot are you finding the most interesting? The most frustrating?

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